Israeli mayor wants to make clear his town was not Jesus's too

Israeli Arabs perform a nativity scene for tourists in the northern town of Nazareth. (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

Israeli Arabs perform a nativity scene for tourists in the northern town of Nazareth. (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

An Israeli city tired of being confused with Nazareth, the iconic city next door where Christians believe Jesus was raised, is hoping to change its name, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Just three kilometres and a 10-minute drive separate Nazareth Illit from its famous neighbour.

“Residents have had enough of people, including tourists, thinking that their city is part of Nazareth,” city spokeswoman Orna Buhbut told AFP.

The mayor of Nazareth Illit is behind the push for a name change.

“This coming Christmas will be the last time foreigners headed for the Nazareth municipality will end up at my office,” the Ynet news site quoted Mayor Ronen Plot as saying.

Nazareth Illit, which means Upper Nazareth in Hebrew, is a new city that was given its name in the 1950s not long after the creation of the state of Israel.

But while the two urban centres share all or part of their name, the similarities end there.

Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Israel, and its population of 75 000 is almost entirely Muslim or Christian.

It welcomes crowds of pilgrims each year to visit the site where Christians believe the Archangel Gabriel announced Jesus’ birth to Mary, and where they believe his childhood home was located.

Nearby Nazareth Illit, founded 62 years ago with a population of 51 000 — most of them Jewish of Russian origin —stands out mostly for its rapid development.

The city wants to emerge from the shadow of its famous neighbour, Buhbut said.

“The resemblance between the two names causes confusion,” she said.

Mayor Plot plans to present the proposal to the city council on November 21 and a committee would be formed to accept proposals for names, with residents taking part.

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